Wellbeing: building resilience



One of the challenges for many parents in the parenting quest is to balance the fine line between being there to nurture and guide their child and becoming overinvolved in their child's life, thus robbing the child of valuable learning experiences. 

As parents, we do not like our children to experience disappointment, upset or setbacks; however, we do know that we cannot always be there to smooth the way, nor should we. An important part of parenting is to reflect on when and how to become involved in aspects of our children's lives and when to take a step back and allow them to deal with age appropriate challenges. When does parenting become over-parenting and thus potentially unhelpful, detrimental to our children's development and perhaps leading to learned helplessness? 

Parents aim to equip their children with the skills to regulate strong emotions and to deal with setbacks so that children can bounce back from difficult situations that life sometimes presents. It can be hard for parents to overcome the urge to save and rescue children from situations where they are experiencing uncomfortable (but manageable) emotions or disappointing or unpleasant consequences. Rescuing may make the child feel better in the short term, but it is not always in the child's best interest in the long-term. This concept applies equally to doing a child's school work for them. Not only does this disempower a child, but it also suggests to a child that you may think they are not capable of doing the work on their own. Let children own their work and learn from mistakes so that they can develop a growth mindset and take risks in their learning, so they will be more likely to fulfill their potential.

If we always try to smooth the way for our children or shield them from mistakes, we rob them of the opportunity to develop skills in resilience. Learning that they can tolerate the uncomfortable feeling and work through the difficulty (sometimes with our background guidance), solve the problem and grow from the experience, is a step towards becoming age appropriately independent.

So how can a parent walk the journey with their child rather than for their child? 

Actively listen to your child without judging, interrupting or giving advice or distraction.
Reflect back to your child what you have heard so that your child feels listened to and is heard and acknowledged. This reflective listening also gives your child the opportunity to clarify further how they feel. e.g. Parent: 'It sounds like you are upset about this situation. Child: 'No, I'm not upset, I am angry.'

This allows the parent to help the child unpack the event further. 

Acknowledge and validate your child's feelings. e.g. 'I can hear how disappointed you are.'
Avoid the temptation to trivialise the feeling or to try to cheer them up too quickly.
Help your child to brainstorm solutions. e.g. 'What options do you have?', 'What if you...?' rather than 'Why don't you...?'
Help your child develop an action plan to deal with the situation – let her own the plan.
Check back in with your child to see how they are going and if they need further support. 
Try to help them focus on what is going well, rather than the negative side – help your child reframe and look for positives in the situation.
Try to avoid making this issue the sole focus on any conversation. 
Remember the importance of families regularly having meals together – hard as this may be to organise. Try to make it a priority, as research suggests that this routine is a protective factor for good mental health in children and teenagers.

There are certainly times when a parent must intervene for the wellbeing of their child. If you are concerned about the impact a situation is having on your daughter, it is wise and advisable to discuss this with her teacher, Year Coordinator or the School Counsellor.  

Dr Justin Coulson's book 9 ways to a resilient child is a good resource for practical parenting strategies. Dr Coulson will be presenting at Abbotsleigh on Monday 7 August. Invitations will be sent shortly. 

Please contact Liz Cannon if you would like further information in relation to this article or call 9473 7836.


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